Proposition 174 Supporters Lag Far Behind Foes in Fund Raising


Backers of the school voucher initiative raised $718,000 in the 10-week period ending in mid-September, compared with $8.8 million collected by opponents of the measure, newly filed campaign finance reports show.

Heading into the final month before the Nov. 2 election, Proposition 174 backers are being out-raised and outspent 10 to 1. Opponents already have hit the airwaves with a television and radio advertising blitz, which so far has gone unanswered.

Despite fund-raising efforts that appear to be sputtering, proponents of Proposition 174 said Saturday that they are gathering new support for the measure, which would provide parents $2,600 for use at private schools.

Based on the latest campaign finance report, however, that support was not evident. The Yes on 174 effort ended the reporting period of July 1 to Sept. 18 with $265,000 in cash, compared with $1.44 million held by the opponents. Altogether, supporters raised $1 million in 1993, while opponents collected $10 million--the majority from public school employees and organizations.

Major benefactors of Proposition 174 were relatively few in number, records show. The largest was conservative Orange County businessman Howard Ahmanson, of the family that founded Home Savings of America.

His Fieldstead & Co. gave $200,000 during the latest reporting period, bringing the total contributed by Ahmanson, his wife and his company to $336,000 for the year.

The report showed that the Proposition 174 supporters raised only $39,000 in small donations, suggesting they had not mounted an effective direct-mail campaign to raise money from donors of less than $100. People who give less than $100 often are the backbone of initiative campaigns.

Virtually all the money to beat Proposition 174 is coming from unions representing public school teachers, administrators and other employees--most from the 230,000-member California Teachers Assn.

The CTA gave $8.19 million of the $8.86 million raised during the 10-week period between July and Sept. 18. Teachers in public schools contribute a portion of their pay automatically to their union's political operation.

The opponents are using their substantial war chest to bombard the airwaves statewide with television and radio commercials decrying the initiative as too costly and threatening to public schools.

After hearing a summary of the proponents' campaign finance report, Rick Manter, campaign manager for the opponents of Proposition 174, concluded: "There's just no base of support (for Proposition 174) among the rank and file.

"The only way they can salvage their campaign," Manter said, "is if they can attract some million-dollar donation from ideologues who are sold on this concept. . . . The clock is ticking real loud right now. If they have a sugar daddy, we'll know within the next seven to 10 days."

Money does not always guarantee a winning initiative campaign. In 1988, tobacco companies outspent supporters of Proposition 99, an anti-smoking measure, by a margin of about 10 to 1. But voters still approved the measure to increase taxes on cigarettes and funded an anti-tobacco advertising campaign.

Still, as they trail in the polls, supporters of Proposition 174 know that money is vital. On Saturday, Sean Walsh, the proponents' spokesman, said that by October they will have enough money to mount a radio, television and direct mail campaign.

"We've got strong grass roots," Walsh said. "We are speaking to the smallest Republican teas and doing a statewide debate at the end of the month. We're doing all the talk-radio shows."

Walsh also thinks the teachers' ad campaign could backfire.

"Parents are very angry that the CTA and the other unions are spending over $10 million to keep the status quo," Walsh said. "The more parents see this (advertising campaign), the angrier they get."

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